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(or, How Did Genocide Happen in Our Backyard?). Guatemala: a human rights history. http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/Gladys. Why study Guatemala?. Case of concern to all humanity:

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Or how did genocide happen in our backyard l.jpg

(or, How Did Genocide Happen in Our Backyard?)

Guatemala:

a human rights history


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http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/Gladys


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Why study Guatemala?

Case of concern to all humanity:

in 36 years of armed conflict (1960-1996), 200,000 Guatemalans killed, mostly unarmed indigenous peasants slaughtered in massacres


Q how can it be that unarmed indigenous villagers are slaughtered by their own government l.jpg

Q. How can it be that unarmed indigenous villagers are slaughtered by their own government?

How does genocide happen?


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Q. How does genocide happen?

A. Black/white logic of Latin America’s war on terrorism

+

entrenched racism and structures of ethnic exclusion

=

genocide


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Guatemala

  • Small and deeply unequal country

  • Since colonial times, wealth concentrated in very few hands, most people extremely poor

  • Attempts to change structures of inequality have been greeted by violence


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Guatemala

  • Majority of population is indigenous (Maya) yet few Maya in positions of power


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Guatemala’s “Ten Years of Spring”

  • 1944- October revolution overthrows dictatorship

  • Two democratically-elected presidents, Arévalo and Arbenz, legalize parties, extend vote, promote education

  • Agrarian reform


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United Fruit Company

  • 40,000 jobs in Guatemala

  • investments valued at $60 million

  • owned the country’s telephone and telegraph facilities

  • owned almost every mile of railroad in the country

  • controlled its only port on the Atlantic Ocean

  • monopolized banana exports

  • not happy about agrarian reform  lobbied US government to intervene on grounds of “stopping Communism”


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1954 Coup

US intervention in Guatemala planned by 2 brothers:

  • Secretary of State John Foster Dulles

    (lawyer whose firm represented United Fruit)

  • CIA Director Allen Dulles

    (former member of United Fruit’s Board of Trustees)


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Document 1

1995 study by CIA history staff analyst Gerald K. Haines

acknowledges and explains the CIA’s role in toppling the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and in “disposing” of “key government officials and Guatemalan Communists”


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1954 Coup

  • 1954: CIA ousted President Arbenz, forced him into exile, installed US-friendly government to replace him

  • anyone who objected to new government was killed; CIA drew up hit lists

  • the coup and subsequent repression of opposition  beginning of the Guatemalan guerrilla movement in 1960


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Guatemalan guerrilla movement

  • Members of the armed forces who rejected Guatemala’s capitulation to USA

  • Marxist ideology

  • Small, clandestine groups, blend in with civilian population

    • Political efforts: seek to build popular support by educating people about injustice

    • Military efforts: unlikely to win on battlefield, so must stage selective operations to bring state power “to its knees”: bombings of state facilities, kidnappings and selective assassination of enemies


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Why would anyone support guerrillas?

  • Government refused to allow open dialogue with political opponents, sought to eliminate them

  • Closing down political dialogue  opposition increasingly radicalized, resort to desperate tactics, including violence


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Document 2

Declassified cable from CIA station in Guatemala City reporting execution of PGT leaders


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Counterinsurgency War

  • In eyes of CIA and Guatemalan military, guerrillas were “terrorists” and “communists” => war against them was war against terror

  • Not “a few bad apples” -- these tactics were part of the plan, designed to “defend democracy”

  • Binary logic of Cold War: “You’re either with us, or you’re against us”

  • According to National Security Doctrine, not only “terrorists”, but those who support them, had to be targeted; and while nonviolent means of targeting them were preferable, excesses were OK if necessary to protect society as a whole


Q how does genocide happen19 l.jpg

Q. How does genocide happen?

A. Black/white logic of Latin America’s war on terrorism

+

entrenched racism and structures of ethnic exclusion

=

genocide


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First wave of war (1960-1970)

  • Widespread use of state terrorism => Crushing defeat for guerrillas

  • Few survivors decided to regroup, moved to western highlands, went underground for many years

  • Did not exert public presence again until mid-1970s


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Second wave of war (1975-1986)

  • Guerrilla groups emerged in western highlands

  • New challenge for Army: because guerrillas organizing in indigenous communities, identifying them meant penetrating these communities

    • Civil patrols (paramilitary units)

    • “Scorched earth”


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Document 3

  • declassified CIA cable from April 1981, describing how an Army patrol found evidence that residents of a village named Cocob supported the guerrillas, and therefore “were forced to fire at anything that moved”)


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Document 4

  • DCI Watch Committee Report, dated 5 February 1982

    (DCI Watch is a committee of the CIA)

    discusses Guatemalan military’s plans to sweep through an area where many indigenous peasants support the guerrilla, and acknowledging that “it will be necessary to destroy a number of villages”


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Document 5

Feb 1982 CIA cable

Describes Army sweep through the same area discussed in document 4, noting that no major guerrilla forces had been found but that since the Army has concluded the entire Indian population is pro-guerrilla, “the Army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike” and the army has therefore destroyed “a large number” of guerrilla collaborators


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Genocide

  • Prior to this period, binary logic of “you’re either with us, or you’re against us” => massive repression

  • Turning point: equation of indigenous identity with communism

  • This is where massive repression became genocide

    • 626 massacres

    • many communities wiped off map

    • idea was not to punish guerrillas, but to eliminate entire society which “hid” them


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Did the US government know?

  • 1982-83 most bloody period of war, thousands killed each month

  • Gen. Ríos Montt: Guatemala does not have a scorched earth policy, but a “scorched communist policy”

  • in 1982, after receiving these reports, Pres. Reagan moved to reinstate military aid to the Guatemalan Army, said Guatemala “struggle for democracy”

  • In 1997 Pres. Clinton formally apologized to Guatemala


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Peace

End of cold war, rise of human rights movement =>

  • Awareness began to spread about what was happening;

  • International public opinion turned against Guatemalan government, encouraged peace process

  • 1996: Guatemalan government and guerrillas signed peace accords


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Human rights in Guatemala today

  • Today, the courts, not the battlefield, are the site of the most important human rights struggles

  • No one has been convicted of ordering human rights crimes

  • Those leading effort to change this continue to be hunted down and killed today

    • lawyers, witnesses, plaintiffs in human rights cases routinely killed


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Lessons?

  • The Guatemalan genocide happened in the name of saving democracy from terrorism

  • Tragic that in the struggle to “defend democracy”, profoundly antidemocratic mistakes were made

  • One recent study of Brazilian torturers (Huggins et al 2002) identifies certain characteristics of “atrocity environments”:

    • Secrecy and fear

    • Binary logic: “you’re either with us or you’re against us”

    • Climate of all-out war against internal enemy


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The erroneous belief that the end justifies the means converted Guatemala into a country of death and sadness. It should be remembered, once and for all, that there are no values superior to the lives of human beings, and thereby superior to the existence and well-being of an entire national community. —Commission for Historical Clarification, 1999


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